Shipping Table Rates: Everything you need to consider before you start using custom table rates for your online store.

As an ecommerce business, you might be tempted to lean on simple solutions wherever you can. While simplicity is beautiful, it’s not always the best business decision. Exhibit A: flat rate shipping. It’s easy to wrap your brain around, and customers love it. So why isn’t it a fit for some ecommerce stores? Let’s dive in.

Picture this: you’re a small ecommerce business in Texas, selling custom-printed clothing, hats, and gifts. Some of your customers are individuals who want products with a family name or funny saying on them. They buy small or even single quantities of your products pretty infrequently. Your other customers, however, make bigger orders, more often. Think: kids’ sports teams, company events, that sort of thing.

If you offer flat-rate shipping, these two customers could end up paying the exact same amount in shipping costs. This doesn’t make sense for you, or for them. 

Enter, smarter shipping. With shipping table rates, you can offer custom-calculated rates on any shipping scenario. While flat rate shipping is the simplest solution, it may be costing you money and efficiency in the long run. Keep reading to see whether a rate table is a better solution for your business. 

Shipping Table Rates vs Flat Rates

The main difference between table rates and flat rates is that table rates are completely customized for your specific business model and needs. 

With flat rates, you charge a uniform fee for all shipments that fall into the same location or product categories. You can have more than one flat rate available, such as for different shipping speeds, but the rates will always be the same, no matter the shipment’s weight or destination.  

Flat rate shipping does a great job of keeping things streamlined and straightforward, but it doesn’t always allow you to provide your customers with the most efficient, affordable or accurate rates. 

While some customers might find your flat rates a major bargain – say if they’re across the country, or placing a large order – others – think local buyers or smaller orders – get a much less appealing deal. Meanwhile, as the merchant, you’re absorbing any additional shipping costs that might crop up, with no way of passing on the charge to customers.

Shipping with table rates, you get to define specific rates for specific scenarios

You can create rules around a shipment’s destination, shipping zones, carrier availability (some only operate regionally), as well as around a product’s weight, the number of items, product category, price and many other circumstances.

Simply put, shipping tables incorporate your shipping rules in a clean, regulated way that maintains consistency and efficiency. It’s a change both you and your customers will appreciate. 

Considerations for Shipping Table Rates

What are some of the things you must consider when setting up your shipping table rates and rules? Essentially, you must consider what’s best for both you and the customer, finding a good balance between speed, convenience and affordability. 

Quantity

It might sound simple, but how many items are being shipped out? Something as obvious as product quantity can have a major effect on your shipping and how much it costs you and your customers. Overlooking the basics like this can make a shipping table irrelevant, so it’s important to start here.

For example, the Little League team who ordered 40+ t-shirts should probably be charged more for shipping than the individual who orders just one product. Again, it may seem obvious, but it’s a smart place to start. 

Weight

Another thing to consider when setting up a shipping table is product weight. Shipping an item made of ceramic versus a t-shirt is going to have a significant weight difference. This is a consideration you need to take into account whether you’re shipping with traditional carriers, or freight carriers. It also pairs well with quantity, as the more items you’re shipping, the more you’ll have to consider weight, as it could raise the shipping rate considerably.

Consider a shipment of foam koozies, versus a shipment of metal trophies – they might be the same quantity and have the same dimensions, but carry obviously different shipping costs thanks to their weight difference. Don’t forget to factor this in, as your carriers will certainly remember. 

Shipping Groups

It’s unlikely you’ll want a shipping rule to apply to every item you sell. For instance, you would probably ship books differently than you would ship a bookshelf. This is where shipping groups come in. Think of them like you think of categories on your ecommerce platform. They’re a simple way to group together products or SKUs that have the same shipping rules. 

As a big t-shirt seller, all your t-shirts can probably be put into the same shipping group. Whether a person wants to purchase 16 different shirts or 16 identical ones, their shipping costs will be the same thanks to your shipping groups. 

Shipping Zones

The farther out your customer is located, the higher the shipping cost will be. Defining shipping zones can help mitigate this fluctuation. 

Shipping zones are geographic areas that you define, to be treated differently in rate calculation. For example, you could offer Free Shipping only within zone 1, which would be sensible if your warehouse were also located there. Shipping zones alone don’t define any rules. 

You can define a shipping zone as a group of countries, regions, states – even zip codes, then calculate rates based on the specific rules you’ve defined for that zone. 

Depending on what your products are, you might even want to exclude shipping to certain zones, such as across international borders. For example, our merchant in Texas might offer free shipping within the state, but charge as soon as products cross the Lone-Star border. 

Shipping Method

Customers want multiple shipping options, like same-day delivery, alternate pickup and curbside pickup. However, that doesn’t mean you’re able to offer all of them at once. At least, not for all of your merchandise or customers. Next Day shipping might make sense for a book, but that bookshelf will have to travel across the country in the back of a big truck, an inherently costly trip. Problems like this can lead to a loss of revenue if they’re not kept in check, simply because they often just aren’t the most efficient methods. Thus, paying close attention to which shipping method works with which groups of your merchandise and zones is vital.

Ideal Businesses for a Shipping Table

It’s true that not every single business would benefit from using shipping tables, and you may be way too busy running your company to give it a shot. To help you out, here is a list of businesses types that may get the most out of using shipping tables. If this describes your company, you may want to give it a try.

Companies with a Small Budget

Do you hang on to every penny in the bank because your budget is tight? Shaving off extra shipping expenses could help you out tremendously. Flat rate shipping is simpler, but could lead to you losing money. Considering your budget, you’ll want to establish rules with shipping tables so every single cent is accounted for.

Smaller Inventory

While shipping tables seem complicated, the fewer items you have to sell, the easier they are to set up. If you have a smaller inventory, it may not take nearly as much time as you think it will. Once you’re all set up, it should be just as simple to maintain and update.

Similar Items

If all your merchandise is roughly the same, there may not be as much time involved with setting up your shipping table rates as you think. For example, if you sell paperback books, many of them are going to be a similar size and weight, and may not need separate rules. If you can lump most of your merchandise together, it should be relatively simple to set up.

Limited Checkout Scenarios

You know your business better than anyone else. Which means, you probably have a good idea of what the average order looks like, as far as order size and shipping destination. If you’ve got a relatively small number of potential shipping scenarios, you can quickly and easily set up rules to cover all of them. This frees you up to grow other aspects of your business rather than dealing with shipping problems.

Final Thoughts

While your rate table might take a bit of elbow grease to set up, it’s important – and very well worth it – to spend the time required to really understand your shipping strategy and opportunities for improvement. Your strategy should match the way you operate. You don’t cut corners in any other aspect of your business, and shipping should be no different. 

Still not convinced rate tables are worth the effort? When you use ShipperHQ, you get the convenience of uploading your data in a simple CSV file. This allows you to keep accurate records of past shipments for useful insights, as well as import and implement rules right away. Once you’re set up, shipping rates will be automated and customized for efficiency. Beyond powerful rate table functionality, your ShipperHQ dashboard is full of tools to make your shipping smarter and save you money. From delivery date and time options at checkout, to live rates and address validation, our suite of tools is truly an all-inclusive ecommerce shipping solution. Set up your free trial today to set up rate tables for your business and see how much time and money you could save.